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Episode review: Columbo Lovely but Lethal

Columbo Lovely but Lethal opening titles

Almost 6 months to the day after the second season’s finale, Columbo burst back onto screens on 23 September 1973 in the svelte shape of Lovely But Lethal.

Boasting a brilliant cast and a unique beauty industry backdrop, hopes were high that Season 3’s opener would match the curtain-raising efforts from the first two stellar seasons. So let’s dust off our fashion turbans and sharpen our eyebrow pencils in readiness to see if Lovely but Lethal lives up to the hype…

Columbo lovely but lethal cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Viveca Scott: Vera Miles
Karl Lessing: Martin Sheen
David Lang: Vincent Price
Shirley Blane: Sian Barbara Allen
Dr Murcheson: Fred Draper
Sergeant: John Finnegan
Lab technician: Bruce Kirby
Written by: Jackson Gillis
Directed by: Jeannot Swarc
Score by: Dick De Benedictis

Episode synopsis: Columbo Lovely but Lethal

Beauty industry Empress Viveca Scott (Vera Miles) has fallen on comparatively troubled times. Sales are down, she’s lost some high-profile outlets, and the vultures – namely arch-rival David Lang (Vincent Price) – are circling. She needs a miracle, and she seems to have found one in the shape of a ground-breaking skin cream that makes wrinkles disappear!

There’s a fly in the ointment, though. The formula has been stolen by handsome young chemist Karl Lessing (Martin Sheen looking very young and handsome), who has diddled Viveca and and co out of the correct formula and is willing to sell it to the highest bidder – who just happens to be David Lang.

“Viveca needs a miracle, and she seems to have found one in the shape of a ground-breaking skin cream that makes wrinkles disappear!”

Tipped off about this betrayal by chain-smoking weirdo Shirley (Viveca’s mole within Lang’s business), a desperate Viveca heads off to Lessing’s  batchelor pad in a bid to get her beautifully manicured mitts on the formula and the single pot of the miracle cream that he has in his possession.

Lessing, however, isn’t going to give in easily. The two are former lovers, you see, and he appears to have designs on both her body and her money – both of which Viveca is willing to part with. She jots down some figures that she’s willing to pay on the back cover of a TV guide in eyebrow pencil. As they appear to reach agreement, Lessing laughs in her face. He has no intention of giving her the formula. He just wanted to see her beg.

Martin Sheen Columbo Lovely but Lethal


Enraged, Vivica does what any woman would do in that situation: she clobbers his swede with a handy microscope, pockets the jar of ointment and gets the hell out of Dodge! A slight cut from the microscope slide’s broken glass is her only injury. She doesn’t have the formula, but through careful analysis of the wonder cream she may yet crack its secrets.

Lessing’s body is discovered early the next day and Columbo and his gang are called in to investigate. Amongst other things, Columbo finds broken glass on the carpet which he puts his hand in by mistake; the impression of an octagonal-bottomed jar in a flour container; a magazine with financial doodles on it written in black eyebrow pencil; and a dartboard with a picture of Viveca Scott pinned to it.

He also discovers that Lessing had been due to go on a European vacation that day, travelling first class all the way. The cost of tickets was $3000. Yet Lessing had only $300 in the bank. Something’s not adding up…

His investigations lead him, naturally enough, to Beauty Mark Inc., Viveca’s place of work. Columbo discusses the murder with her, even suggesting that he thinks a woman may have done it because of the eyebrow pencil writing on the magazine.

Viveca seems to be in the clear straight away. As a redhead, she would never use a black eyebrow pencil, after all. It’s only when Columbo notices that she isn’t sporting the famous beauty mark in real life that she has in all her press photography that the truth comes out. She does need a black eyebrow pencil for that.

Next stop is Lang Enterprises, where Columbo tries in vain to get some information from David Lang about his relationship with Lessing. It may be obvious that Lang’s not telling the whole truth, but when he’s backed up by his secretary Shirley, Columbo beats a retreat.

Lethal 1

His ‘n’ hers coats were in vogue that season…

Shirley lets the cat out of the bag about the real state of affairs between Lang and Lessing to Viveca at a secret rendezvous. Lang had withdrawn $200,000 from his account the day before the young chemist’s death. The morning after the death, he put it all back in. While that wouldn’t look great to the police, Shirley knows he didn’t do it. She drops a broad hint that she suspects Viveca did, though.

Realising this is problem that must be tackled head-on, Viveca arranges to meet Shirley later that day out near her fat farm retreat. She then shows off her mad chemistry skillz by lacing a cigarette with poison in a move that can only be bad news for the gat-toothed Shirley.

“Viveca shows off her mad chemistry skillz by lacing a cigarette with poison.”

Just as she’s about to head out to kill, errr… meet Shirley, Viveca is interrupted by Columbo, who’s driven out to the retreat to ask a few more questions. He pesters her for a time until she artfully sidesteps him by entering the nude-sunbathing area. The bashful Lieutenant is far too shy to follow.

Now unencumbered by the irksome detective, Viveca meets Shirley, nods her head obligingly to the young woman’s delusional dreams of becoming an executive at Beauty Mark and slips her the poisoned cigarette. After a creepy cuddle, Shirley drives off to meet her doom, crashing her car while in a drug-addled haze. The message is clear, kids: smoking is seriously bad for your health.

Lethal 3

Smoking’s bad, mmmmmkay?

Columbo’s still around when Viveca returns, unsettling her with a story about how he seems to have contracted poison ivy – even though it doesn’t grow in southern California. It itches like blazes he adds, just as the gloved Viveca is persistently scratching her own hand.

The topic comes up again the next day, as Columbo visits Viveca HQ once more. The riddle of the poison ivy has been solved. It came from Karl Lessing’s home, where he had been using an extract of it in some chemical tests, although at this stage the detective is still unsure how it ended up on his hand.

Viveca, meanwhile, is driven to desperation. Was Lessing bluffing about the contents of the jar he gave her? Maybe it was a compound made using the poison ivy extract and not a miracle wrinkle cure at all! Seeking answers, she heads back to the fat farm to find Dr Murcheson – the alcoholic old chemist who was Lessing’s direct superior. He agrees to analyse the ointment.

However,  Viveca’s time runs out. As she dashes to her office to fetch the jar, she hears a commotion in the courtyard. Looking out of her window she sees two police black-and-whites pulling in and faces a critical decision: fling the jar and its possibly priceless contents out into the ocean, or stash it and hope for the best. She chooses the former, and agonisingly tosses the jar into the churning waters below.


In a deleted scene, Columbo inadvertently stepped on the gas and wiped out half of the fat farm

Moments later Columbo and his cronies arrive to conduct a search of the office. When nothing shows up, Columbo dismisses the other officers and has a one-on-one with Viveca. He pointedly asks her how her itch is doing and arrests her for murder.

You see, he’s finally figured out how he ended up with poison ivy. When Lessing was brained with the microscope, the glass slide on it was shattered and ground into the carpet. Analysis shows it had extract of poison ivy on it. Columbo contracted it when he touched the carpet and when doctors prove Viveca also has it, Columbo will have the final evidence he needs.

Outwitted and outmanoeuvred, Viveca admits defeat and is escorted out of her office to face justice. She has just enough time to deliver a chilly parting shot to Columbo as credits roll…

Lovely‘s best moment: cat fight at the cat walk

DAvid Lang Viveca Scott

Yep, we’re all wondering what she’s wearing on her head as well, Vince…

The episode’s delicious encounter early on between catty rivals David Lang and Viveca Scott at the fashion show is terrific entertainment. It’s exposition heavy, but in a very good way as the audience is succinctly and plausibly introduced to the troubles facing Viveca’s company through Lang’s snide comments at her expense.

Viveca gives as good as she gets, as you’d expect, and the foundations are laid for a mouth-watering battle between the two which, sadly, never entirely eventuates. Still, combined with the outrageous and opulent fashions of the early 1970s – including Viveca’s unbelievable fashion turban – and you have an eye-opening scene that holds the promise of untold delights to come.

My take on Lovely but Lethal

Seasons 1 and 2 of Columbo pulled out all the stops to dazzle viewers with season openers of great style and ambition.

Murder by the Book remains one of the the greatest season curtain raisers in televisual history. Etude in Black, meanwhile, was unprecedented in its size and scope, with extensive location shooting and a sweeping orchestral soundtrack making it a great example of ‘Event TV’.

Columbo Lovely but Lethal

Strange, then, that Lovely but Lethal was chosen to kick off Columbo Season 3, because this is a comparatively lacklustre outing with even a stellar cast struggling to keep the episode’s head above water.

There may have been external factors at play. A four-month writers’ strike in 1973 must have played merry hell with scheduling and pre-production. However, fans’ favourite episode Any Old Port in a Storm aired only two weeks later, so was surely in the can when Lovely aired. It’s a superior episode in every regard, so why it wasn’t chosen to open Season 3 is a mystery.

“Lovely but Lethal is a comparatively lacklustre outing with even a stellar cast struggling to keep the episode’s head above water.”

I’ve watched Lovely but Lethal many times, but it’s never moved me to any great extent. I’ve always thought that what it gives with one hand it seems to take with the other. The ‘best moment’ chronicled above is a case in point, promising much more than it delivers, but Vincent Price’s appearance overall is the prime example. On the upside, it’s so cool that Vincent Price starred in an episode of Columbo! On the downside, he’s criminally underused and just disappears halfway through the story.

It doesn’t make sense to me to have Price at your disposal and then not make more of him. Who knows, perhaps he only had a couple of days spare to accept a small guest slot and we should count our blessings he appeared at all. But the story itself seems to suggest more should have been made of the Lang character.

Lethal 16

Vincent Price: bizarrely underused, but a joy to watch

Consider: he’s a shady character who is out to bring Viveca Scott’s beauty empire to its knees. There’s no love lost between the two, and we also know that Lang was lying to Columbo about not knowing Lessing, and that he had shifted $200,000 in and out of his bank account to pay for the secret formula. His personal secretary also died in mysterious circumstances.

That level of scheming, intrigue and antagonism simply demands more screen time for Price. But no! He has a couple of decent scenes before vanishing without trace. The balance of the episode suffers as a result.

“Vera Miles did a fine job of portraying Viveca as a cold and ruthless killer, whose only emotions are saved for her business.”

One could argue, of course, that it was better for Vera Miles to not have to share as much of the limelight as she otherwise might. After all, there are relatively few female killers throughout Columbo‘s 35-year lifespan and Miles did a fine job of portraying Viveca as a cold and ruthless killer, whose only emotions are saved for her business, not for the people in her life.

The problem I have is that I just don’t find Viveca that interesting. She doesn’t have the shady past of a Nora Chandler, or the bullied upbringing of Beth Chadwick to colour her character. Viveca is a cold fish who uses and abuses those around her. Her motive is financial. It’s hard to get excited about her, except when it comes to her wardrobe, which really is the secret star of the episode.

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Viveca’s wardrobe selection is the secret star of Lovely but Lethal

Viveca should be and is a total fashionista – and not just because of the fashion turban! She’s a costume department’s dream, easily looking a million bucks is every ensemble we see her in. That’s the aspect of her that is most attention grabbing – but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Like my criticism of Short Fuse and Roddy McDowall’s ludicrous fashions in it, when the chief talking points of an episode revolve around the protagonist’s outfits, it’s a sign that the story isn’t as intriguing as it should be.

Usually, a Columbo story penned by Jackson Gillis has gold dust sprinkled throughout. Even the silly Short Fuse, which Gillis also wrote, is partly salvaged by a tremendous gotcha scene. But Gillis’s Midas touch has run out here because the central clue of the poison ivy is decidedly weak.


The poison ivy clue fails to convince

Columbo has plenty of hunches and some circumstantial evidence against Viveca, but his case entirely hinges on the poison ivy. But I say a fie on it! Viveca has an easy get-out-of-jail-free card available simply by saying that she must have contracted it from Columbo during their first meeting. It would be very hard to disprove.

Also I’m no horticulturalist, but surely a microscope slide could only hold a minuscule amount of poison ivy extract on it? Certainly too little to infect two people to such an obvious extent? Prove me wrong, plant lovers! Prove me wrong…

Columbo actually has more damning evidence against Viveca than he appears to make use of: the doodled numbers on Lessing’s TV magazine. Again I’m guessing, but handwriting analysts must be able to match those numbers with examples of her writing elsewhere to confirm a match. Combine that with the poison ivy and her goose is cooked. Sorry to say it, but they dropped the ball by leaving that out. It’s just not good writing.

All is not quite lost, though. As is the case with every single episode of Columbo, there are some bright moments worth discussing. For one thing, the episode’s ‘Mad Scientist’ opening credits with Dr Murcheson’s tense face filling the screen as he appears to be conducting experiments on helpless women are nicely atmospheric.

Columbo Merch Lovely but Lethal

The opening credits sequence is a nice homage to old skool horror flicks

With horror legend Vincent Price in the line-up, and Dick De Benedictis’s screeching horror score used throughout, the shades of Universal Monsters’ Dr Frankenstein are unmistakable. Those aren’t the only horror-related aspects, either. Lest we forget, Vera Miles starred in Psycho in 1960, while Sian Barbara Allen’s Shirley character is a bit of a psycho herself. Creepy and weird, the chain-smoking brunette is an unsettling presence until she’s slain.

Keen viewers will recognise that Murcheson is portrayed by Columbo regular Fred Draper, who, as a fun Easter Egg for eagle-eyed fans, stars alongside two other revered Columbo guest stars: Bruce Kirby as the grumpy lab technician and John Finnegan as one of Columbo’s sidekicks. The trio clocked up 27 appearances between them and are much loved by fans. Read more about their contribution to the show here.

But those moments aside, Lovely but Lethal is a lesser light of the Columbo opus. It’s not terrible, but, rather like Viveca’s doomed attempts to secure the miracle cream, the formula just ain’t quite right.

Did you know?

Blog Mama Fratelli

A dozen years before finding silver screen immortality as Mama Fratelli in The Goonies, Anne Ramsey was earning a crust as an extra in Lovely but Lethal! You could easily miss her if not paying attention, but she’s the butch masseuse who’s giving Dr Murcheson a pummelling at the fat farm two-thirds of the way through the episode. She even has a couple of lines. Quite what lead the mild-mannered masseuse to turn so EVIL in little over a decade can only be guessed at…

For many more surprising Columbo guests star, click here!

How I rate ’em

You may have already guessed that Lovely but Lethal won’t be troubling the upper end of the leaderboard. Quite the opposite in fact. I’d place it in the ‘lower mid-tier’ bracket. It has no devastating lows, but no thrilling highs either. It’s really something of a flat liner and certainly one of the most forgettable episodes of the 70s’ run.

Check out any of my other reviews using the links below!

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Double Shock
  3. Murder by the Book
  4. Death Lends a Hand
  5. A Stitch in Crime
  6. Lady in Waiting
  7. Prescription: Murder
  8. The Most Crucial Game
  9. Etude in Black
  10. Greenhouse Jungle
  11. Requiem for a Falling Star
  12. Blueprint for Murder
  13. Ransom for a Dead Man
  14. Dead Weight
  15. The Most Dangerous Match
  16. Lovely But Lethal
  17. Short Fuse
  18. Dagger of the Mind

As always, let me know what you make of this episode in the comments section below. I’d LOVE to hear your views. And I’m looking forward to the next episode in the running order immensely, as we reach Any Old Port in a Storm – many a fan’s absolute favourite.

Until then, adieu…

Read about the top 5 scenes from Lovely but Lethal right here.

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I’ll have what she’s having…

How did you like this article?

104 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Lovely but Lethal

  1. One line that I’ve never understood, Columbo to Viveca: “It might not have been a murderer. I think it was a woman that killed him.” Why couldn’t a woman be a “murderer”?

  2. What does Viveca take out of her sleeve and slip into Shirley’s bag after she overturns it and ditches Shirley’s cigarettes? It’s not the poison cigarette because she takes that out of her pocket and hands it to Shirley.

    • I got it–it was a copy of the $200,000 check from Lang to Lessing. Columbo tells Viveca that the investigators found it when he talks to her about Shirley’s death.

  3. Some points I have:

    — Overall, have always liked the episode. I find Vera fascinating and attractive while adorned in the fashions of that era.

    — Using the beauty cream plot was pretty good, one can definitely see the value of such a cream if legit.

    — I didn’t perceive Shirley having a romantic interest in Viveca. Seemed to me she just wanted to get ahead and saw a great opportunity to do it. I do think she idolized her and wanted to follow in her footsteps.

    — Something not mentioned anywhere was the ridiculousness of the Shirley murder. The whole thing was pretty dumb and unrealistic. Viveca basically tackles Shirley’s arm
    to dump her purse and then Shirley doesn’t give any notice as to what Viveca is up to in gathering her items and tossing the smokes. Piggybacking this, let’s say everything went as planned for Viveca. How is there any guarantee Shirley is going to wreck bad enough to kill her? What if she just slowly drifted off into a ditch or pole after slowing down? What if she pulled over and stopped. See my point?

    — There was more evidence to be had than the poison ivy. The marker used on the scribble could be matched chemically I do believe (maybe I am getting too modernly Forensic Filish), not just the fact that Viveca used a black marker. Then there is the phone call etc.

    — I did enjoy Viveca’s annoyance with Columbo, which is probably my favorite part of the episode overall. He is a menace and she has no time for him lol.

  4. This episode is less enjoyable to me because I feel too sorry for the killer, Viveca Scott. She wasn’t the greatest person, but she didn’t deserve to have her formula stolen and then to be humiliated by Karl Lessing. It’s not a pleasure to watch Columbo gradually snare her.

    It makes sense that Jeannot Swarc directed this episode, because that stylised opening scene is very “Night Gallery.”

    Judging from the comments, I seem to be alone in this opinion, but I thought Shirley Blane was cute and likeable. At first, anyway!

    • I met Jeannot on a set in 2016 and couldn’t resist mentioning “Lovely but Lethal.” Despite the wide-ranging number of shows he’s directed over the decades, he had sharp memories of “Lovely” and spoke fondly of it.

    • It’s true that she didn’t plan to kill Karl, but the murder of Shirley made her much worse and less sympathetic.

  5. I just watched this episode again. As everyone says, it is a middling outing.

    I’ve never understood the whole “poison ivy” thing. It is absolutely true that one doesn’t find poison ivy in California, but the state is absolutely covered in poison oak. In fact, California almost defines the habitat of poison oak (southern Oregon to northern Baja), especially along the Pacific Coast Highway, where Viveca’s “fat farm” seems to be located. A poison oak rash would be indistinguishable from a poison ivy rash because both are caused (along with poison sumac in the deep south) by a family of compounds called urushiols. Worldwide, other plants also produce these compounds, including the Japanese lacquer tree (laquer=”ururshi” in Japanese) and even the Hawaiian mango. After exposure, no one on the face of the planet could determine which of these plants originated the rash. Viveca’s rash was indicative of nothing…absolutely nothing whatsoever. ANY Californian would know this. I am shocked that the writers, actors, technicians put up no protest as this was being filmed.

    I was painfully…and I do mean painfully…made aware of the existence of poison oak on a road trip I made with some buds to California about a year before this episode aired. As an Easterner, I was reasonably familiar with poison ivy, but I had never seen poison oak before. After a scramble down an embankment of the Pacific Coast Highway to investigate some abandoned vehicles that either spun over the cliffs or were pushed, I soon discovered that the slopes were covered with poison oak and that I was especially sensitive to it. I developed a whole-body, weeping rash. After a week or so of watching me struggle with the consequences, my buddy’s girlfriend, who was a resident physician at UCSF, prescribed an oral corticosteroid (prednisone) that stopped the reaction in its tracks within 24 hours. (I could have killed her for not doing it sooner!) It is highly likely that Viveca, with all the expertise in her labs, would have known about this and killed this exaggerated immune response before Columbo ever noticed it.

    Lastly, a previous poster has commented about references to Vincent Price’s “The Fly”. I get that. However, the movie I am most reminded of when I see this episode is the Roger Corman flick, “Wasp Woman”. It is hard to believe the writers didn’t have this movie mind as they wrote the script. There are so many parallels. Woman heads a cosmetic firm but fears that the years are catching up to her. Older scientist is devoted to her and dedicated to creating an anti-aging cream. Risky ingredients are used (wasp venom vs. urushiol). Unfortunate consequences ensue. Even the sets are similar.

    Thank God Columbo didn’t have to confront the “horrific” creature of the Corman film.

  6. You seem to have missed the best reference in the whole film: The FLY!

    Vincent Price starred in the original, The Fly, and also in the sequel. Vera Miles, of course, appeared in the penultimate scene of the Hitchcock thriller, Psycho, in which Norman Bates says, in the final line of the final scene: “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly!”

    Now, in Lovely but Lethal, did you catch Vera ominously saying to Columbo the very same line?!

    But wait: there’s more! Watch the opening scene again–the one with the apparently mad doctor about to take a scalpel to the woman’s face. Look at that huge red lamp just behind him. It looks for all the world like a giant, multifaceted fly’s eye! Just like the one we witness when tragic David Hedison’s transformation is revealed to his horrified wife, Patricia Owens in the original 1958 sci-fi classic.

    So, the only thing missing is Columbo unzipping his own fly to scratch himself, as he mistakenly walks into the nude sunbathing area. Thank God his poison ivy stopped that uncouth & clueless maneuver!

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  9. I did find this episode most interesting as Columbo gives an even more grimly vigorous pursuit than usual of the killer in exchange for hardly any real evidence against her — I mean, poison ivy — that, as another poster pointed out could have been transferred by shaking hands with Columbo. They may not have shaken hands but who’s to stop her from saying they did at trial, if it got that far.

    Also, the creepy Shirley, whose interest in Viveca Scott seems far from wholesome, makes the episode really interesting. There may be a lesbian angle as some have posited but, if so, certainly one-sidedly. Another poster suggests that ” In the scene where Scott invites Shirley to their final meeting, she says they’d meet at the same place they’d met before” — yes but that was because Shirley, for doubtless a variety of reasons, was leaking info to Scott — industrial espionage but not romantic liaisons. At that last meeting, two things of interest — the very unexpected hug Shirley gives Scott (more affectionate than lewd) and the texture Vera Miles gives to Scott’s “goodbye” to Shirley at that fateful encounter, after having laced the latter’s cigarette with something that causes Shirley to crash her car — lethally (to paraphrase the episode’s title).

    The hatefulness of Karl Lessing (Martin Short, looking a lot like his son, Charlie Sheen), Viveca Scott’s first victim at the episode’s very beginning (in a fit of rage, not premeditatedly) and the obviously intolerable tidings for the future that Shirley represents make Scott one of the less dislikable killers in the canon, IMHO.

  10. I love this episode based solely on the fact that Richard Stahl makes an appearance. The fact that this man never got his own show is an abomination, a stain on the American tapestry, and affront to my sensibilities, and pretty dumb.

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  12. Great review and love these shows but having just watched this episode (and checked back to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!) the poison ivy “clue” was the least of Viveca’s problems. The police checked the phone records of Lessing and found out that Lessing had called Lang’s private number. What they didn’t seem to spot was that Viveca used Lessing’s phone to call the CHIEF OF POLICE and gave her NAME about 30 seconds before killing Lessing!

    Maybe Columbo was on a go-slow in sympathy with the writers’ strike.

    • Good idea. I never thought of Viveca Scott having used Karl Lessing’s phone. But Columbo often misses to check the telephone company, because it would be boring for his audience to use the same kind of proof over and over. For example, he could have caught Dr. Mason in “How To Dial a Murder” in no time.
      If Columbo had no clue about the exact time of Lessing’s death, connecting Viveca to his killing would have been hard anyway. She doesn’t deny knowing him, not even denies having once been his affair, and she never claims to have been somewhere else the night he died.

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  17. In some ways an excellent script. I always cherish when the sloppy lieutenant is set to snoop around in a classy environment where he doesn’t seem to belong. But what bothers me about “Lovely but Lethal”, although I still rate it with 5/6 points, is not what it contains but what it doesn’t contain. Vincent Price and Martin Sheen are underused. This should have been a longer episode, while others should have been shorter. In the clever and funny dialogues there are many reflections on former actions that should have been shown to the audience, for example how Karl Lessing agrees on dealing with David Lang or how he steals the formula from Dr. Murcheson or how Shirley spies on David Lang and his reaction to Lessing’s murder or how Columbo visits David Lang again after his secretary has been killed or how Columbo eventually finds the poison ivy in Lessing’s drawer. A tight story telling is usually a bonus for a “Columbo”, but in this case the big stars should have had more screen time.

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  20. I recently found your blog, and I love it. I’m a Columbo fan for several reasons. It’s nostalgic to watch (I remember watching many episodes in the 1970s…my dear departed Mom loved Columbo), Peter Falk is just so good, and the supporting cast is often stellar. “Stellar” also describes your reviews. Your writing style is funny, yet insightful. Thanks very much. And I’m with you in regards to Jack Cassidy as the all time best murderer.

  21. Just saw this on Hallmark channel this morning (they just replay the same ol’ half a dozen or so. Damnit). What really struck me (and you’ve discussed this a bit earlier in the thread) was the relationship between Ms. Blackmailing/Stalker/Idolator Shirley-the-Weirdo and Viveca. In the scene where Viveca invites Shirely to their final meeting, she says they’d meet at the same place they’d met before. To me, this, and other quite broad implications, indicate that the women were either already more than acquaintances or certainly headed that way. This certainly *was* brave for the era, but what really struck me most was that both ladies seemed cut from the same cloth. In the scene on the beach, Viveca very much seduces Shirley. But, as we know of Viveca’s vaunted string of young men, she is interested in the object (or an objective,more likely). And when the camera shows Shirley’s face, after the ‘kiss’, we see the same sort of look on her face….not a look of love, nor even a look of lust. She’s just as much a sociopath as Viv….she just has not so much …..patina…to her. Although the implication of their relationship is plain, there is no poignancy to it (as in “Make Me a Perfect Murder”). And that, to me, is the crux of why this episode is not so interesting…..it lacks any sort of engagement at all.

    (I did like Viveca’s closing line, where she exhorted the Lt. to give his brother in law her regards ‘in an appropriate manner’. If she’d been able to say what was in her mind in that era (as shows certainly would now), it wouldn’t have had nearly the value of the line as written)

    (just as a btw, my very fave Columbo ep is “Dagger of the Mind”, followed by “Fade In to Murder”. Over. Acting. Fascinates. …….Me.

    • “(I did like Viveca’s closing line, where she exhorted the Lt. to give his brother in law her regards ‘in an appropriate manner’. If she’d been able to say what was in her mind in that era (as shows certainly would now), it wouldn’t have had nearly the value of the line as written)” — AGREED. I remember my dad chuckling over that way back when. Obviously Viveca Scott would not have made the kind of vulgar or profane comment that today would be “de rigeur”. People had more class back then.

      I would, however, refer to Columbo’s relative as his “alleged dermatologist brother-in-law” — we all know Columbo made stuff up. He invented relatives in almost every episode to fit the situation. In one episode, a character even asks him if he “really” has a nephew. We only know he has a wife (whom we never see, of course) because she is referred to by the purser (who tells Columbo, that “she’s looking for you”) at the end of the episode which takes place on a cruise boat, wherein a murder occurred that Columbo, of course, solved. However, no other relatives he claims exists can be taken for granted, although his stories about his father DO ring true.

      • “No other relatives he claims exists can be taken for granted.”
        Not quite right: We do know for a fact that Columbo has a nephew named Andrew Parma.

    • I didn’t pick up on any pervy- or degenerate-agenda intentions. But knowing what we now know about the indecency and harm that most of Hollywood—especially certain subsets—has been intentionally pushing for many decades now, it’s all certainly possible.

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  24. Despite not being a favorite episode of mine, I have to make a plea for the poison ivy clue at the end. You can’t get the rash by touching anyone infected: you have to touch the oil of the plant (of any part, even if it’s dead). And the size does not matter, too: a very little piece of it can wreak havoc on some skins. Supposing you add it to the other circumstantial evidence, maybe you can break through Viveca’s confidence.
    I completely agree, by the way, on the clothes stealing the show. And Martin Sheen’s screenshot is a gem (Phwooooooar! x 2).
    Congrats on another wonderful review!

  25. I can’t believe no one has yet to mention the clever “Psycho” reference, when Vivica tells Lt. Columbo….”I wouldn’t hurt a fly”
    You recall the infamous line from a now captured Norman Bates/Ed Gein.
    Columbo’s reaction alone, let’s the viewer know he’s in on the joke.

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  28. I forgot to include the best scene, where Shirley and Viveca are having a “secret” meeting in a dress shop, handling $400 dresses ( a fortune at the time, and still expensive!) while puffing away industriously at Virginia Slims. Don’t worry about ashes, burns or butts ladies! (You can tell Sian Barbara Allen is not a real smoker by the way she sips and blows the smoke~it was essential to the plot-line that she chain-smoke. Still she projects this intensity~you can picture her in a cult offering her firstborn to Dear Leader in a sandwich)

    • I had the same reaction! I couldn’t believe one of the boutique employees didn’t rush over and make her put that cigarette out. And having it in her hand while holding up an expensive dress! Yikes!

  29. This is weirdly enough my favorite Columbo episode, due to it’s style and color sense. Heavens, Viveca’s HAIR is the main character! Please please tell me that this is a wig. Not Vera Miles real hair, though her hair was also distractingly coarse and unnatural in “Psycho” as well. Vera Mile’s character and clothes horrifyingly resemble the outfits my mean and cold third grade teacher wore. She just needs the intimidating stilettoes. Vincent Price grabs the screen when he is on and it is a baffling waste when he disappears~scheduling conflicts? Why Sian Barbara Allen would rather work for the bitch queen than David Lang IS the mystery of the episode.

    • I assumed all throught that it was a wig. Terrible style–so stiff and starchy. I wonder why they would put that on her rather than using Miles’s own hair?

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  31. im in no way a fan of this episode I think its one of the worst episodes of the 70s I don’t knorw the reasons I just don’t like it very much , however I still prefer it than dagger of the mind and requiem for a falling star and matter of honor which is my most disliked episode of the 70s.

  32. Having that horror movie style opening, with Vincent Price in the cast, and then to still use him so little, is truly baffling. He should have been the lead character. Such an incredible waste.
    Still, I like this episode. It’s the fact that Viveca is so clearly finished, for so long, that makes the abrupt ending so satisfying.
    I especially loved this moment:
    Viveca: “I never touched that vial.”
    Columbo: “You’re under arrest for murder.”
    I always like it when Columbo just drops the whole act and straight up admits to the perp that he’s got them. So satisfying.

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  37. The Poison Ivy places Viveca at the scene. Throw in the writing on the magazine and that’s two very compelling pieces of circumstantial evidence that places her at Lessing’s home. She likely has no good alibi for her whereabouts at the time the crime occurred. Additional investigating would eventually uncover a motive. Getting a murder conviction may be difficult, manslaughter would be more likely. I think Vera Miles did a very good job (even if her hair stylist didn’t) of playing a very frightened, annoyed, and nervous person. Was she cold? Yeah, but I think in other circumstances she was probably rather charming. She had those moments. There is no doubt that Shirley wanted to be more than “just friends”, one wonders what the suits at the network thought about that.

  38. “Port” is indeed a great episode (even if Adrian realizing his wine cellar was spoiled from the heat wave came quite late in events, not to mention how improbable that would be in real life).

    I think what would have improved this episode greatly was maybe play up Viveca’s penchant for younger men (and like with “Sex and the Married Detective”, play up Columbo’s flustered, sheepish reaction) to at least emphasize her need for control in her character (perhaps if it were made today, that could certainly be the case). Also, of course, more Price (pure gold), and most importantly, have a “gotcha” that like all the other great solutions, catches even the audience off-guard as well as the murderer. With the poison ivy factor, as said before, tacked on and telegraphed well beforehand, it takes virtually all the tension out of the ending.

    I’m almost shocked at how far ahead of its time Shirley having an implied thing for Viveca was. Not to mention how there didn’t seem to be a controversy (perhaps people saw it as childlike immaturity back then).

    • Interestingly, I didn’t see Shirley as having an implied ‘thing’ for Viveca. I just read it as her being totally weird and idolising her, rather than sexual attraction. Maybe I’m too innocent a lamb (like David Lang).

      • LOL. I see the “being green” factor in Shirley as well, and she definitely idolized Viveca, but aside from being a legend in the industry and her preceding reputation, we’re not really given a reason why Shirley’s drawn to her. That, and Shirley seriously needed to get out more.

        I acknowledged the possibility of controversy given to that kind of vagueness in settings with two women because only a few years later with “Cagney and Lacey”, Meg Foster was booted off the show due to the network worrying about her Cagney being perceived as a lesbian.

        • I think it was just ambition. Shirley clearly thought Viveca could do more for her career than Lang could. But resorting to blackmail is always a mistake in these shows–it only gets you murdered.

  39. Brilliant solutions make brilliant Columbos; lackluster solutions make lackluster Columbos. What makes the poison-ivy solution here especially uninspiring is that poison ivy is irrelevant to the rest of the story. It’s a tangential add-on. The best Columbo solutions are inextricably intertwined with the murder scheme: In “Prescription: Murder,” Ray Fleming could not carry out his perfect crime without Joan Hudson’s assistance — and this was his undoing. In “Murder by the Book,” Ken Franklin’s perfect alibi idea had a logical origin, and that origin was his crime’s flaw. Even when the crime is not premeditated, like in “Death Lends a Hand,” the solution can still be inherent in the nature of the crime. But this episode’s solution had nothing to do with anything else.

    • It’s relevant in the sense that it helps to place Viveca at the scene of the crime at the time the glass slide was broken–just as Columbo was there some time after the slide was broken.

  40. I worked with Jeannot Swarc last year and I mentioned “Lovely but Lethal” to him. All these decades later he recalled it fondly and remembered that it was the Season 3 premiere.

  41. Vincent Price also did an episode of Levinson and Link’s ELLERY QUEEN, “The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario,” in which he contributed a shrill and over the top performance undeserving of the role. This was an affliction that didn’t crop up much in his films, more often on the small screen.

  42. An episode I care for a bit more than you but I believe you’re like commenter Paul A. and I. A pre-planned murder is always more rewarding when our favorite sleuth grabs them up. Might be the reason Jack Cassidy episodes are so good

  43. Another excellent review and I agree with it on the whole. As a big Vincent Price fan I can still recall the disappointment of my first viewing of this episode at how little he was in it and the way his character completely dropped out. As stated above, Price would have made a great villain, as would the other horror greats Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing could have been a classic villain actually.

    The episode does have good elements, such as the fantastic all-too-brief appearance of Martin Sheen, and while I never go out of my way to watch it, I’ll stick with it for the duration anytime it pops up on the TV schedule.

  44. I’ve always quite liked this one for some reason. I can recognise that it isn’t as strong as a lot of the others in the 70s run but its one i always enjoy. I like the eerie music and the locations in this one, the fat farm, the beach etc. I also find Sian Barbara Allen intriguing as Shirley, it seems heavily implied that she has a romantic interest in Viveca which is an interesting angle and would have been controversial back in the day. Viveca lacks depth and substance which is unfortunate but she is wonderfully bitchy. Vincent Price was underused i agree. The ending is weak but then thats not unique for Columbo. I think there are more endings that are weak than there are strong and conclusive ones.

    Overall i can see the problems with this episode but i still enjoy it. As a bit of light weight escapism on a Sunday afternoon, when you are feeling lazy and don’t want to watch something that requires too much effort, i think it does the job and ticks the boxes.

  45. Another great review. However, I rate it much higher than you. In fact, it’s one of my favourites. I think Vera Miles’ performance is a stand out in the series and completely compelling. The episode never drags and has some superb set designs. Agree that Vincent Price is underused and could it could have benefited from a bit more humour but it was good to see strong, ambitious female characters at the fore which was fairly rare from this era.

  46. Not a terrible episode but certainly didn’t live up to its promise – they’re never quite as good when the murder isn’t pre-planned in a cold calculating way.
    By the way, wouldn’t Vincent Price have made a great murderer?
    Roll on Any Old Port!

  47. Wholly agree on a couple of fronts. Vincent Price adds an intrigue in his role that most of the episode sorely lacks. You’d certainly think he’d have more of a presence after Shirley’s death. Also, a poor choice to begin what, in my opinion, proves to be a very strong season. “Port” is one of the best overall episodes and would have been a better choice.

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